Move the Needle


One of the positive attributes of most entrepreneurs is that we dream big. We have little patience for small dreams or even thinking incrementally about how to achieve our long-term dreams. We know where we want to go, and we want to be there now!

This attribute holds true when we launch our business, but it also holds true when our business slows down or faces obstacles.

This is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when hitting a rough patch, some business owners think the only way out is to make huge changes. “We need to double sales!” “We need to slash expenses to the bare minimum!” “We need to fire all the dead wood and hire only ‘A’ players!”

No doubt times occur when radical change is needed to help a business survive. While sometimes that change needs to happen quickly, those occasions should be rare.

Great things can be brought about in a business by applying modest changes over a sustained period of time. In his book Chase One Rabbit, business professor Phil Kim uses the example of a 57-year-old friend who went from never having been a runner to running in three marathons a year—all within the span of five years. Talk about a great example of moving the needle just a little bit at a time!

Business owners can be fiery people. Many have communication, patience, attention, and anger issues we work out in real time with our employees. Frequently, this shoots us in the foot when it comes to hiring and keeping good workers—or getting the best out of the ones we have. If we’re smart, we recognize the negative impact our behavior can have on our business. So, we vow to change things—all at once!

But even if we start out making big changes in our behavior, it’s difficult to stick with it, especially as the stresses of the business or of the changes themselves intensifies.

What we can do, however, is move the needle just a little bit every week, every month, or for a year. If things fall apart (and there will always be some falling apart), then we only lose a little effort. Whether it’s every day, week, or month, moving the needle slowly over time makes it easier to get back in the game when things don’t go as planned.

Trying to accomplish too much, too fast often results in accomplishing nothing that lasts. We get distracted; we become exhausted; or we don’t see enough of a payoff soon enough. So we give up.  But making a desired change is only the first step—maintaining the change is where the real work comes into play and where the real payoff takes place.

Move the needle just a bit, but at least get it moving. First get used to the change, then master it and let it become a habit.

A modest 2% improvement each month for one year results in a 24% change overall. That makes a huge difference! Even though you might not notice much of a change right away, over time, the change will become visible.

Chuck Violand

Chuck Violand is the founder of Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Through VMA, he works with business owners and companies to develop their people and profits. For more information, visit

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